WWOOFing it Up in Kiwiland: organic farming in New Zealand 2012

3 years later and life brings me back to New Zealand. This time for a longer period, for a different purpose, with a different outlook on life than last time. I hope what transpires from a few years of travelling as far and as wide as possible across this beautiful country is a basic but decent knowledge and experience in organic farming, self sustainable living, and food production. Come and join me, there's loads of room in the car.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Baa baa has the X factor, and that's what saves him from the fate of his peers. He is the 'house' sheep.

Day 1

The sky is blue and the sun is hot. Without the breeze through through the window when driving, that non-UV-filtered-sunshine is what's going to turn me into sunkissed caramel before the Spring is over. I find myself driving through a green lush valley, along winding roads through fields of cows, sheep, and horses, following the Waikanae River. I smell the distinct aroma of manure (clean and pleasant) and I feel a smile grow between my cheeks... after years of 'thinking about it', I am finally 'doing it'. I'm happy to be finally heading towards my first Wwoof hosts but I'm feeling equally as nervous. Like these bendy, angled roads, my mood doesn't know which way it's going. Then the road turns to onto gravel, the traffic disappears, and potholes start appearing. Potholes, shmotholes, this is paradise! Rural New Zealand is even more beautiful than I remember.

On arrival, I knock at the door a few times and get no answer, momentarily panic, thinking I'm at the wrong number and then knowing that docking lambs' tails is on the agenda for today, realise that heading for the baa-ing and bleating might get a result. They started before I arrived and I was half disappointed, but equally apprehensive, and somewhere in between glad that I wasn't getting thrown into the deep end! A fear that the method being used would be surgical, and having convinced myself, in this case, that I would be the surgeon! (hope for the best: prepare for the worse), I was also relieved to see there were 6 people on the job already. Another relief was that it was the more 'humane' method, of putting rubber rings on the tails and letting them eventually fall off. More humane? Well, the sheep can't talk...

Day 2

It's amazing how quickly animals, including humans, become familiar, and fond of each other, or simply just used to each other. Baa baa the lamb was evasive yesterday, and unreceptive to my petting. What a change today! He was up close and sniffing at my gumboots (wellies), and then jumping up on me. What a sweetheart, how could I eat the wee lamb? ... I then made myself a salami sausage and felt a new kind of guilt... if Baa baa was an Oink oink would I have made the sandwich then? This was after Dice the Jack Russell shamelessly dragged a headless rabbit into my way in the garden while I was weeding and proceeded to chew it.

When I returned after ravenously polishing off my guilt laden salami salad roll, the also very cute domestic dog had left half the rabbit (presumably digesting the other half,) skinned and gutted laying a few metres away from the original spot. She, unlike lambs, is safe from the literal chop. Mainly grown for human consumption, Baa baa has the X factor, and that's what saves him from the fate of his peers. He is the 'house' sheep. While he doesn't live with us in the house, he is hand-fed by humans and lives alone in the orchard. This means he can keep company with ill lambs or sheep convalescing in the orchard too, as the 'eating sheep' are not used to solitude.

Social norms are a funny thing. Why are some animals OK to eat (sheep, pigs, cows) and other animals not? This thought was resurfacing from yesterday, when I was helping feed the animals, including the horses, animals that in France, are more than acceptable to eat. All 4 horses have names, like the 6 cows, but only the cows will be chopped. Why name it if it's getting eaten? Curiouser and curiouser.

The family hosting me have 3 children between 14 and 19 years old. The youngest drove the quad bike with me hanging on tightly on the back, to the barn to pick up hay to take to the cows for their evening feed. The whole time I had a smile on my face, this is idyllic and I was jealous of these kids growing up in it, but for them, it's normal, nothing special. I fed the chooks (chickens) and picked up 2 eggs, warm and freshly laid. I also got a go at feeding Baa baa a half litre of milk substitute which amused me. He bounced about, sucked for his life through the teat and finished the bottle in 30 seconds flat and I'm sure he didn't take a breath! Today I could also get close enough to pick him up and cuddle him. The top of his head touched my cheek and he felt like a heated fleece! Emotionally, I felt growing affection.

These simple experiences, all new to my 30 years of city life, gave me so much pleasure. But do all these come at a price? And for who? I honestly don't know, but the animals are maybe the one's picking the short straw... yesterday I witnessed Baa baa being sterilized, because this will make him a much nicer sheep, ie. more tame...

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